Starting a clothing brand. Sounds pretty simple right? Come up with an idea, get some samples made, sell said samples. I mean, how hard could it be?? Before I go any further I want to be completely honest and say it has been really hard for me to open up about this as I have always been successful throughout my career. My designs for other brands sold out and have been featured in Vogue magazine. I climbed the career ladder and ran successful design departments and had/have great relationships and contacts throughout the industry. I have helped over 40 independent brands either through consulting, design & development or manufacturing support. It didn’t even cross my mind that I’d have difficulty when starting my own brand. Ha!
I had been in the industry for 15 years when I decided to start my own brand, worked with some of the biggest retailers in the business, designed collections selling in the hundreds of thousands of units and knew all there was to know about suppliers and manufacturing. I’d presented in front of hundreds of people who weren’t shy about critiquing my work, organised photo shoots and fashion shows with sponsored sports stars and celebs and managed teams and budgets so big they could make your eyes water. You’d think with this formula, I’d be selling out of my small brand faster than you could say Fendi X Skims collab. Wrong.
While I did, and still do, sell it wasn’t the overnight success I was hoping for and that was quite the bitter pill to swallow. Once I’d gotten over that initial disappointment though and taken a step back to take stock, I could see why and how to fix it. Here’s what I wish I knew before starting my clothing brand:
Corporate and Indie businesses aren’t on the same playing field
I was trying to apply everything I had learnt from my years working for huge companies to my very small indie business. Obviously having all this experience helped, there is definitely cross over and I knew the process inside out but our budgets, customer base, marketing strategy, backing etc… weren’t exactly the same. Oh and a little thing like doing it all yourself when you’re used to having whole departments to help out.
Mistake n°1: Not Starting Small
I wanted to have every product category covered so designed a big range. Wrong! I would have been better off sticking to a few different products and testing the market to see which sold best and then tweaking and adding as I went along. As it was, I was stuck with quite a few samples from my first collection that just weren’t selling. You can start a brand with just a handful of products, less even, and I advise you to do so. This will be less costly, give you more leeway to change direction or improve on your offering and give you a clearer marketing focus.
Mistake n°2: Only having high ticket items
While this can work in your favour, I found that I was missing out on sales because I started at a high price point. Once I introduced some smaller items (accessories), I found that people who loved my product but couldn’t necessarily afford it jumped on these. This is not to be mistaken with undercharging or trying to sell to everyone which is never a good strategy. My niche and brand vision lent itself really well to accessories which leads us to…
Mistake n°3: Not going with my gut
I was a clothing designer and clothing was what I was flipping well going to design thank you very much and I was going to make it all singing all dancing with prints galore because god I loved a print! But if I was honest, there wasn’t much in my range that I would actually wear myself. I know, it sounds crazy. I’m not saying I didn’t like what I designed, I did, but my own personal style is quite pared back and urban with a standout, bold quirky accessory to bring the whole look together. Obviously you shouldn’t just be designing for yourself because you should always start with a customer profile but if you can’t back your own horse then you are quickly going to get into all sorts of problems. Basically, I didn’t listen to my gut. I thought it had to be clothing because that’s what I was good at-a formula that worked- but what I really wanted to design (for my own brand) was accessories (and homewares, watch this space…). Luckily I came round to this conclusion but it took me a good few years of near misses and knowing something ‘wasn’t quite right’ before I got there. Moral of the story? Think carefully about your product range. Would you buy/wear it yourself or as a gift? Do you feel happy promoting it to others? Even though you have a target market, if you can’t place yourself somewhere in that then you’re not going to be able to fully get behind it.
Mistake n°4: Not starting a marketing campaign before launching
This is quite a biggy but in my defence and with a lot of hindsight, I started my brand in 2015 just before social media marketing exploded for small businesses and I honestly didn’t have a clue. I had an Instagram account and a Facebook page but I wasn’t sure what I should be posting and I definitely left it too late. I already had my samples before letting anyone know anything about them! It was quite the uphill struggle after that and the longer you leave it, the harder it is to get traction so please, as I tell all my clients, think about and start your marketing while you are still in the development stage even if it seems like you’re jumping the gun. It is also worthwhile getting help with this if it is not within your area of expertise because whether you like it or not, marketing, telling your brand story, having a tone of voice is key to your brand making it. I now have that help and am part of a great membership with a huge focus on marketing. Better late than never 😉
And that, my friends, is about it. There are other minor things that I would do differently and I am at a turning point with my brand and the direction I’m taking it, but these are the main areas I really wish I’d known more about or at least thought through more before starting. It feels quite vulnerable putting this out there for all to see, especially as I consultant and mentor brands for a living. But if being transparent can help anyone thinking of starting or wanting to change direction then it will have been worth sharing. We also learn from our mistakes and it goes to show that it doesn’t matter how much we think we know, there is always room to learn and grow.
If any of this speaks to you and you’d like help getting your own clothing line developed and to learn from someone who has been there, done that and come out the other side then drop me a line and we’ll set up a discovery call to see how I can help.
My ‘mini’ power hour and ‘maxi’ 8-week programme prices will also be going up in January but if you book now you will get this year’s price even if you don’t want to start until the beginning of next year.
Here’s to going all in and learning from our mistakes!
Love, Deedee xx